The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday asked staff to look at expanding a program meant to safeguard students as they travel to and from school. The request comes on the heels of a highly publicized attack on a teenage girl that was coming home from Jordan High School earlier this year.
Last month, 16-year-old Graviela Estrada was attacked by three men while walking along Long Beach Boulevard to meet her mother after school. Although Long Beach has a “safe passage” program that uses police officers to watch over students traveling near Poly, Millikan and Cabrillo high schools, Jordan hadn’t previously been included in that plan.
Jordan has since been funded with recovery act money, but Colin Powell Academy for Success, where Estrada was walking to meet her mom, is not.
At last night’s City Council meeting, Councilmember Al Austin asked for a feasibly report on expanding the program to include Colin Powell and establishing a guide for neighborhood associations and communities to form their own safe passage programs in the future.
“Children are our most valuable and vulnerable assets and they shouldn’t have to endure violence on their way to school,” Austin said.
Austin’s request comes after months of complaints from some residents that the Long Beach Boulevard corridor in North Long Beach has been a hotbed for sex trafficking and prostitution, some of which is witnessed by children on their way to and from school.
Expanding the program could use volunteers or paid employees posted along routes traveled by students and at area parks to help ensure kids are able to travel to and from school safely.
In the past, the city has used Long Beach Police Department officers to monitor after-school travel areas, but Austin’s request calls for the LBPD, LBUSD and other interested parties to form a plan for how to increase student safety.
The additional layer of protection is sorely needed, residents said.
“This event that occurred about one month ago has really devastated our neighborhood,” said Patricia Long, who lives in the Coolidge Triangle neighborhood.
Dave San Jose said he’s lived in North Long Beach for decades and suggested that every school needs a safe passage program.
“I’ve seen the good, the bad, and this is the ugly,” San Jose said of recent incidents of violence in the community.
Long Beach received a $3.9 million grant last week that will help it address gun violence in the city. That funding came after a request from council members Rex Richardson, Mary Zendejas, Cindy Allen and Suely Saro earlier in the pandemic.
The California Violence Prevention and Intervention Grant Program award is the second time in two years the city has received state funding to help address community violence.
In 2020, it used a $1.1 million grant to launch a pilot program in the Washington Neighborhood aimed at reducing violence by sending community-based intervention experts into the area.
The 2022 award is expected to help the city expand its efforts into 13 communities in North and Central Long Beach, where gun violence has been more frequent.
The program is being led by the Long Beach Health and Human Services Department and will deploy civilian peacekeepers who will look to engage youth and others affected by gun violence and connect those families to supportive services and economic opportunities, according to a city announcement.
That could include hosting program-supported activities at city parks, schools and other public places to help change the culture around gun violence in the city through intervention and activating underserved parts of the city. Plans for expanding the program are expected to begin in August.
Editor’s note: This story was corrected to show Jordan has already been funded to participate in the safe passage program.